Deaths in custody

The first annual report of the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody was published on 21 September. The report found there were around 600 deaths in custody in England and Wales last year: in prisons, police cells, approved premises and secure hospitals. A third of these deaths were apparently self-inflicted, and the study by the Forum finds that some were preventable.

The report raised concerns about the number of mentally ill people in custody, and suggested they would be better looked after in psychiatric care. The number of self-inflicted deaths in prisons fell from 78 in 2005 to 67 last year, but the figure is on the rise again this year.

 

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Prison officers' national strike

At 7am on 29 August members of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) in all 129 state-run prisons in England and Wales began a national strike in protest against the government’s insistence that an agreed 2.5% pay rise would be implemented in two stages. The government immediately went to court and obtained an injunction forbidding the POA from ‘inducing, authorising or supporting any form of industrial action which would disrupt the operation of the Prison Service in England and Wales’. After a bit of bluster and confusion, during which officers at some prisons went straight back to work while others said they would stay out, the strike came to an end. During the course of the day a prisoner at Acklington, who was locked in his cell because of the strike, killed himself and POA members crossed their own picket lines to repress protests at Liverpool prison and Lancaster Farms Young Offender Institute. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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Labour government plans to build yet more prisons

In December 2007 Minister of Justice Jack Straw published the Lord Carter Review of Prisons and announced plans to build yet more prisons and create 96,000 prison places in England and Wales by 2014. Nicki Jameson reports.

Lord Carter – Labour’s peer of choice
Labour peer Lord Patrick Carter of Coles is one of the government’s favourite chairs of review committees, advising the Labour Party over the last five years on everything from the Commonwealth Games and Wembley Stadium to Payroll Services, Criminal Records Bureau, Offender Management, Public Diplomacy, and Pathology. He is hated by lawyers for his review of the legal aid system, which has paved the way for the government to make sweeping cuts to the provision of free legal representation and advice to the poorest people in society.

 

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Victory but not justice for the Harmondsworth Four!

On 22 February, after a six-week trial, all four defendants charged following the November 2006 Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) uprising were acquitted of conspiring to commit violent disorder or criminal damage and various charges of damaging property. (Two had earlier pleaded guilty to specific acts of minor criminal damage.) The verdict was a great victory against the inhumane system of immigration detention and a positive result for all those who struggle and campaign against it. It was, however, hardly justice for the Harmondsworth Four, who, already detained at the time of the protest, had spent over a year on remand in criminal prisons and after the trial were redetained under immigration law.

The four men, two Russians, a Palestinian and an Egyptian, appear to have been picked almost at random by the British state to face a highly political prosecution in revenge for the uprising that wrecked Harmondsworth. They were accused of spending weeks plotting ‘widespread disorder and destruction’. The ‘evidence’ for this came largely from a detainee witness for the prosecution, who is said to have bartered his testimony for permission to work in Britain.

 

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British prisons brutalise working class children

Britain has a long, pernicious history of brutalising working class children confined to state institutions, so it was hardly surprising when an amendment to the rules governing ‘secure training centres’ was introduced, widening the use of so-called ‘physical control in care restraint techniques’, one of which authorised staff to inflict blows to children’s faces, euphemistically called the ‘nose distraction technique’.  A recent legal challenge was partially successful in that the court found the rules were amended on the basis of ‘flawed and unlawful decision making’; however it did not agree to quash them.

The use of overt physical violence to control socially marginalised children is nothing new and for decades Borstals and Detention Centres operated regimes designed to teach a ‘tough lesson’ based on fear and intimidation. The death of a child in the Reading Detention Centre in the late 1960s partially exposed the regime of terror, although the state was careful to maintain the illusion that it neither sanctioned nor created the violence. More recently the extraordinarily high incidence of suicides, self-harm and suspicious deaths in Feltham Young Offenders Institute suggest that intimidation and brutality remain standard.

 

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Pauline Campbell fighter for justice

FRFI is deeply saddened by the death on 15 May of Pauline Campbell, who for five years had fought an unrelenting struggle to expose the inhumane treatment of women prisoners. Following the death in 2003 of her 18-year-old daughter Sarah – the youngest of six women who died in Styal that year – Pauline began a campaign of direct action to expose the British prison system’s complete lack of care for vulnerable women. Between April 2004 and April 2008 every time a woman prisoner died, she staged a demonstration outside the prison – 28 demonstrations in all. RCG comrades regularly attended those at Styal, New Hall, Holloway and Durham prisons. Pauline was arrested 15 times and charged five times. The latest charges were recently dropped and we reprint below an article Pauline sent to FRFI just days before her death.

Pauline was completely non-sectarian. She lobbied MPs, spoke to parliamentary committees, emailed journalists, addressed conferences, marched with other relatives of people who had died in custody and demonstrated alongside peace campaigners, communists, anarchists and feminists. She wrote regularly for FRFI, as well as for many other publications.

 

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Titan prisons

On 5 June the Ministry of Justice published Consultation Paper CP10/08 on Titan prisons. Those who wish to submit their views now have until 28 August. The term ‘consultation’ is used loosely as the government has already accepted the suggestion of the Carter Review (see FRFI 202) to build three ‘Titan’ prisons. These will be situated in or near to London, the West Midlands and the north west of England, and will house up to 2,500 prisoners each. The plan is to have the first Titan open by 2012. The cost of each new mega-prison is provisionally estimated at £350m at today’s prices. Although every new prison which has been built since Labour came to power has been built using private finance, the construction costs of the Titans will be borne by the tax-payer, although it is not yet determined who will run them.

 

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EDITORIAL: Labour's police state

FRFI 145 October / November 1998

The passage of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act represents a new and fundamental attack on our democratic rights. As ever, when it decides on a new round of repression, the ruling class has dressed it up as a measure directed against an external threat. Yet we should have no illusions about this. This was not some panic measure in response to the Omagh bombing, or those on the US embassies in East Africa. It was a carefully calculated act by the Labour government to add to the armoury of repressive legislation that will be available in the event of any serious challenge from the working class in the future. The excuse - that it was needed for the fight against terrorism, international or otherwise - was for the gullible, in particular for the hundreds of Labour MPs who obediently trooped through the lobby to approve legislation which they had only seen on the day it was debated. By the end, they had made a fiction of the right to a fair trial, and of freedom of association, in Labour's Britain.

 

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Editorial: London bombings fuel state terror

On 7 July 2005, more than 50 people were killed and hundreds injured by bombs planted on a bus and three underground trains in London during the morning rush-hour. The first attacks were followed, two weeks later, by four more attempted bombings of the transport system. It is clear that more may follow. The 7 July bombs were indiscriminate, killing London commuters from a wide range of backgrounds and origins. For the victims, their families and friends, these outrages are profoundly tragic. For the world, the London bombings have contributed to a wider tragedy.

 

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Editorial: Don’t give in to government terror!

On 22 March the House of Lords finally gave in to the government and allowed through the latest Terrorism Bill (Labour’s fifth since coming to power in 1997), which will now become law. In the sixth round of a debate, centred in the main on the clauses that outlaw ‘glorification of terrorism’ and which has bounced between the Commons and Lords since last August, peers accepted the government plans by a majority of 112.

 

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Privatising punishment

I believe people sentenced by the state to imprisonment should be deprived of their liberty and kept under lock and key by those accountable primarily and solely to the state.Labour Party Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair, 1993

Labour will take back private prisons into public ownership – it is the only safe way forward.
John Prescott 1994

Within a week of being elected in 1997, Home Secretary Jack Straw reversed Labour’s pre-election position and announced that all new prisons would now be privately built and run. Since then punishment has become big business. In September 2008 the press announced that the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), a charity supposedly committed to campaigning for less use of imprisonment, had joined a consortium bidding to run two new prisons. Nicki Jameson reports.

During the 1980s right-wing think-tank the Adam Smith Institute had recommended to the Conservative government that it follow the example of the US, which was beginning to use private contractors to manage prisons. The Tories duly began experimenting with privatisation and by the time Labour took power four prisons and three immigration detention centres were being privately run.

 

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Justice for Binyam Mohamed

Guantanamo: Justice for Binyam Mohamed

On 30 October 2008 it was announced that British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had officially asked Attorney General Baroness Scotland to investigate ‘possible wrongdoing’ by the CIA and M15 in the case of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, a British resident. On the same day, in a separate development, the US administration was finally forced to hand over to Mohamed’s lawyers the full defence evidence they have been demanding since May. Both events represent significant achievements in Mohamed’s long campaign for justice in the face of desperate attempts by both the British and US governments to hide evidence of their involvement in Mohamed’s extraordinary rendition and torture (see FRFI 205).

 

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Government tightens legislative noose on foreign prisoners

On 1 August 2008 the section of the UK Borders Act 2007 which provides for ‘automatic deportation’ of ‘foreign criminals’ came into force and more legislation against foreign national prisoners is in the pipeline. These measures were introduced by the Labour government following the Tory and press outcry in April-May 2006 over the release of foreign national prisoners which led to the resignation of Home Secretary Charles Clarke. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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Crisis at the Metropolitan Police: £300,000+ handshakes all round

Two senior police officers in the Metropolitan Police have departed their jobs in the middle of what everyone agrees is a crisis for policing in London. The Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, resigned before his contract ended claiming that Boris Johnson, the popinjay, old Etonian, Tory London mayor, had driven him out. Resignation or not, Sir Ian pocketed a large pay-off from taxpayers’ money on top of his pension. Britain’s top Asian policeman, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who sidled off a few days before Sir Ian clutching a fat cheque of his own, left having withdrawn a claim against his former boss for racism, promising to say no more.

 

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Inside News / FRFI 207 Feb / Mar 2009

Ronnie Easterbrook
On 22 January FRFI supporters joined Brighton ABC and the Friends of Ronnie Easterbrook outside the Ministry of Justice in London to show our solidarity with Ronnie, who, as we go to press is entering the sixth week of a hunger-strike.

Ronnie was sentenced to life for armed robbery and attempted murder in 1988 after a failed robbery on a supermarket wages van. A police informant set the job up and Ronnie and two others were ambushed by PT17, the elite tactical firearms unit. Tony Ash was shot dead, despite surrendering, and Ronnie, Gary Wilson and a police inspector all suffered gunshot wounds. Also lying in wait was a Thames TV crew, who captured the shoot-out on film.

 

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Prisoners’ rights under attack

Since Labour came to power in 1997 the prison population of England and Wales has increased from 61,000 to 81,748. The government has created more than 3,000 new criminal offences and totally changed the sentencing framework so that an unprecedented number of prisoners are serving indeterminate sentences. Britain has more life-sentenced prisoners than Germany, France, Russia and Turkey put together. The prison system is full to bursting and conditions are worsening. Prisoners have few legal tools with which to defend themselves but have at times been able to bring successful court actions against the prison system’s worst excesses. Labour’s Justice Minister Jack Straw and the Prison Officers’ Association want to stop them doing this. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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Licence to kill: Landmarks in the development of police powers to kill and get away with it

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

jcdm mural

The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson was appointed on 28 January promising to ‘convince all the communities of London that the Met is on their side’. His appointment followed the resignation of Sir Ian Blair in November 2008, who left under several looming clouds, not least the imminent verdict of the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest; allegations of racism from senior Asian police colleagues and a boycott by the Metropolitan Black Police Association; and an investigation into personal corruption.

The open verdict in the De Menezes inquest, which ended in December, proved to be the indictment of policing that Sir Ian Blair had feared. The jury were prevented from bringing a verdict of unlawful killing by a ruling of the coroner, but went as far as they could to point to the culpability of the police. The De Menezes family welcomed the verdict as at least some recognition of the circumstances of their son’s killing in Stockwell on 22 July 2005. But the family did not receive justice and they stand in a long line of families who have been on the receiving end of the development of police tactics to deal with political opponents, tactics which include murder and brutality.

 

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Law and order

PAY Ian Bashford

It is no surprise that ever since Tony Blair uttered his soundbite ‘Tough on Crime; Tough on the Causes of Crime’ the Tories and Labour have competed bitterly to be the ‘toughest’. They are, after all, competing to win the support of the same narrow-minded. Self-interested section of the middle class in this election. But that is not all. Whichever party runs the State after this election will be keenly interested in ‘tooling up’; equipping itself with all the powers necessary to whip the working class and its supporters into line.

 

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